“These splendid failures”

There is one feature in the past which more than all the rest defies and depresses the moderns and drives them towards this featureless future. I mean the presence in the past of huge ideals, unfulfilled and sometimes abandoned. The sight of these splendid failures is melancholy to a restless and rather morbid generation; and they maintain a strange silence about them — sometimes amounting to an unscrupulous silence. They keep them entirely out of their newspapers and almost entirely out of their history books. For example, they will often tell you (in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe, that such a thing existed literally in Roman and essentially in mediaeval times. They never admit that the international hatreds (which they call barbaric) are really very recent, the mere breakdown of the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. Or again, they will tell you that there is going to be a social revolution, a great rising of the poor against the rich; but they never rub it in that France made that magnificent attempt, unaided, and that we and all the world allowed it to be trampled out and forgotten. I say decisively that nothing is so marked in modern writing as the prediction of such ideals in the future combined with the ignoring of them in the past.

 —  What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 7:01 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. The Delayed 2nd Annual GK Chesterton Walking Pilgrimage, Saturday 28th July.
    9am Meet outside St George’s C of E Church, Aubrey Walk, London, W8 7JG where GKC was Baptised as a baby. Walk to Uxbridge (9 miles approx), stopping for breakfast.
    1.30pm Old Rite Mass in thanks giving for Chesterton’s Conversion, which took place 90 years ago this month. Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael, Osborn Road, Uxbridge, UB8 1UE, you are welcome to attend the Mass even if you are not doing the walk. Walk onto Beaconsfield (13 miles approx) where Chesterton lived, converted, died and is buried. Say the prayer for the Beatification of GK Chesterton at his graveside. http://www.catholicgkchestertonsociety.co.uk
    For more details or to join the pilgrimage see http://www.justgiving.com/Stuart-McCullough or follow on Twitter on the day, @Stuart1927

  2. Wow.

    I love receiving these emails. Thanks again.
    Thank God we can’t have everything in medias res, as we’d like it. We’d be obliged to follow our desires right off the cusp of history–the final ideal being only the end at all costs, since we’d have abandoned every end that nature offers us.
    Thank God we cannot have it that way, and we have people like Gilbert K. Chesterton to remind of us of the actual Spirit of our freedoms: A Spirit who does not forget in order to anticipate, but anticipates in order to forgive.

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